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School board learns about mentor program changes

Whitehall-Coplay School District board committee meetings were held May 9.

During the education/student activities meeting, Melissa Arifaj, curriculum supervisor of ELA and humanities; Cora Snyder, Steckel Elementary School principal; and David Stauffer, curriculum supervisor of educational technology, presented the board with information about induction plan updates and teacher leadership opportunities for the 2022-23 school year.

Currently, the induction plan allows new teachers 10 one-hour meetings with their mentors each year. The goals of the new plan are to focus on teacher leadership opportunities and to create a more comprehensive experience for new teachers.

Feedback from mentors, inductees, administrators and other stakeholders provided Arifaj, Snyder and Stauffer with a wealth of information, including strengths and weaknesses of the current plan.

The new plan would include three years of targeted professional development for new teachers and meetings with assigned mentors for one year. Stauffer said he wasn’t sure if mentoring would remain a part of the new program, but one of the first things he heard was that teachers strongly wanted the mentorship program to stay.

New teachers will participate in five professional development sessions led by five teams over the course of three years. Standardized information about school culture, technology and other topics will be provided to new hires, ensuring consistency.

For teachers who have been with the district, Snyder said the goal is to give them leadership opportunities by having teacher leads in literacy, math and special education and for each grade level.

For the mentorship program, teachers who have at least five years of experience, are flexible, are committed to ensuring the program is completed and are able to maintain accurate records and analyze data will be considered for those roles.

During year one, new teachers would be introduced to the basics; year two, they would learn more about instructional strategies and best practices; and year three, they would work on refining instructional practices.

One of the weaknesses of the current model is that employees who were hired during the nontraditional hiring season - the non-summer months - were not receiving the same support as their colleagues hired before the start of the school year. The new program requires that all teachers receive consistent experiences, and this will be accomplished by having two training cohorts.

Cohort one will offer five training sessions during August through December, and cohort two will be offered for those who started after the beginning of the school year and will offer the same five trainings February through June.

During year two, the new teachers come together for the same five training sessions.

An induction website has been created as a hub to answer any questions new teachers have and will be a place where mentors and inductees can interact. Names and pictures of staff in all district buildings are on the website, so new teachers can put a name to a face and recognize staff from other buildings. A guide provides teachers with contact information and helps them determine who to call based on the question or information needed.

The plan will be recommended for approval at the board meeting in July.

During the finance meeting, the board discussed the proposed budget and school tax increase. At first, it appeared as if the board would have to raise the proposed school tax to 3.69% from the previously agreed-upon 3.22% due to an additional $217,000 in expenditures.

After discussing the numbers and what it would mean for taxpayers, it was agreed $217,000 would be pulled from the fund balance to keep the school tax increase at 3.22%.

The next school board meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. May 23, June 27 and July 25.

Committee meetings on operations/transportation, finance/personnel and education/student activities will be held 4 p.m. June 13, after a special school board meeting.